Book Review: ‘John Wayne: The Life and Legend’

Given a spare moment, John Wayne played chess. And bridge, and poker, and backgammon. And how about another round of drinks for everybody at the end of a long day of shooting? Anything to be doing something, and not be by himself.

The image of Wayne as someone who craved activity and shunned introspection is one of the strongest—and somehow most poignant—impressions to emerge from John Wayne: The Life and Legend, Scott Eyman’s exemplary biography. The Duke’s restlessness drums through the book, and while the man does not come across as unhappy, he does seem chased by a need to keep working, to keep proving himself, and (surprisingly) to pay his bills. On the last point, Wayne was generous to a fault, carried a load of alimony and child care, and was ill-advised on business deals.

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